124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

LIV Golf

Phil's comments almost folded LIV before it started, Golf Saudi's attempt to 'rent' Augusta National and other tidbits from the New Yorker-LIV piece

October 18, 2022

Chris Trotman/LIV Golf

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman admitted in May that Phil Mickelson’s comments to the Fire Pit Collective delayed the launch of the Saudi-backed circuit. But according to a story from the New Yorker, Mickelson almost torpedoed the entire operation.

The article, which is in the latest issue of the New Yorker, revisits many of the key elements of the PGA Tour-LIV battle that has been chronicled in the golf media throughout the year. However, there are a handful of new tidbits from the piece, highlighted by an admission from Majed Al Sorour, CEO of the Golf Saudi, that Mickelson’s remarks caused the LIV braintrust to question—specifically Sorour and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund—if they wanted to move forward. Zach Helfand writes:

The changes meant that the player exodus was likely to stabilize. Sorour and I retreated to a private suite beside the eighteenth green. He sat on a couch, his arms spread on the cushions, and said, “We have many players who want to come in now. But I need to protect my people.” He felt a sense of loyalty to the early adopters. The first ten had signed before LIV had announced its launch. Another group had been ready to sign. Then Mickelson made his comments about the "scary motherf***ers," and the league, suddenly, was on the brink of folding.

Sorour told me, “I called the boss”—Rumayyan—“I said, ‘Everyone’s walking away. Do you want to do it, or not?’’ Sorour told Rumayyan he had a plan: “Get the biggest mediocres, get the ten that we have, get you and I, and let’s go play for twenty-five million dollars.” Rumayyan decided to press ahead and announce the launch immediately.

Helfand also writes that LIV sees its team concept as a way for the league to recoup its money—a subject Golf Digest broke and wrote extensively about in August—and that some player-owners received equity in their teams.

However, Sorour denied that Tiger Woods received the reported $800 million offer to jump to LIV: Of the Woods offer, Sorour said, “It’s not straight-out money. I never offered him that money, not even close to that."

The article touches on the touchy subject of World Ranking points. While LIV and its leadership have been guilty of bombastic claims in the past, what the league might do should they not be granted accreditation, and thus its players losing an avenue to the major championships, is a doozy:

LIV’s other pressing issue is that its tournaments don’t yet earn golf ranking points, making it more difficult to qualify for the majors. There was speculation that the Masters might ban LIV players. “For now, the majors are siding with the Tour, and I don’t know why,” Sorour said. “If the majors decide not to have our players play? I will celebrate. I will create my own majors for my players.” He went on, “Honestly, I think all the tours are being run by guys who don’t understand business.”

What would qualify as a LIV "major" remained unclear.

Speaking of the Masters, Helfand passed along an item that’s floated around the folks of Golf Saudi for some time. Specifically, that the group looked into renting out Augusta National:

At the Masters one year, according to a person familiar with the conversations, they asked about renting Augusta National’s clubhouse to host a meet and greet for top golfers. “You can’t just do that,” the person said.

You can read the rest of Helfand's piece here.